In the opening decades of the 20th century, the United States played a prominent role in maintaining order in the Caribbean. The willingness to intervene in the affairs of foreign governments was dictated by a desire to protect American lives and property in unstable nations, as well as to maintain peaceful conditions on the approaches to the Panama Canal.
These concerns came sharply into focus in 1904 when Theodore Roosevelt, buoyed by a recent electoral triumph, set forth his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine — a diplomatic position that was used to justify intervention to end the cycle of political instability and fiscal irresponsibility in the Dominican Republic. U.S. agents were sent in to take control of the customs houses, the chief sources of the nation’s income. A period of calm followed and improvements were made to utilities and public health.
However, in late 1912 another crisis developed following the assassination of the Dominican president. The in-coming Wilson administration inherited the situation and attempted initially to rely on diplomatic missions to restore calm. Failing in those efforts, Wilson turned next to intimidation by dispatching warships to Dominican waters. Finally in May 1916, U.S. sailors and marines were sent ashore where they established a military dictatorship tempered by principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. This armed intervention was a matter of great embarrassment of Wilson, who had been a harsh critic of similar actions by his predecessors. A U.S. naval officer assumed control of the government, restored order and continued efforts to bring basic improvements to the lives of the islanders. Not surprisingly, resentment of the occupation simmered among the natives.
In 1920, with the cries of “national self-determination" from Versailles still fresh in the ears of many, Wilson announced that political control of the island would be returned over time to the Dominicans. That process turned out to be a slow one and was not completed until 1924. The U.S. military presence was withdrawn from the island and the military government ended; however, treaty safeguards were included to give American investment interests ample safeguards.
It was not until September 1940 that U.S. customs collectors were removed from the Dominican Republic.
See other foreign affairs activities during the Coolidge administration.